Player-Dealer Games


“Baby, you’re so money and you don’t even know it!”

– Trent Walker, Swingers

State-licensed California cardrooms offer a variety of poker games and variants of other casino standards like blackjack and baccarat and other novelty games Fortune Pai Gow®, Three Card Poker® and Spanish 21®.9 Cardroom table games are operated pursuant to long-standing court decisions and statutes adopted by the state legislature which permit such games provided the games are offered using a “player-dealer” position.10 All player-dealer games are approved by the California Department of Justice Bureau of Gambling Control prior to being offered by a state-licensed cardroom to the general public.

In Nevada-style commercial casino and California tribal casinos, the casino plays the dealer’s hand and invites all the other players to compete against it. All player wins are paid by the casino (aka the house) and all player losses are collected by the casino. In contrast, California cardrooms cannot act as the “house” or supply the funds against which other players wager. Instead, cardrooms offer variants of table games with a unique player advantage—players have the opportunity to act as the “player-dealer” and wager on the dealer’s hand. In other words, in table games at California cardrooms, one or more players compete against the others, playing the dealer’s hand, paying winners and collecting from losers from the money at risk on the table.

In California, the opportunity to act and wager as the player-dealer is an advantage to players given the odds offered on the dealer’s hand. Despite the advantage, not all opt to act as the player-dealer, nor are they required to do so. To keep games in continuous operation, cardrooms employ state-licensed, third party proposition players to accept the player-dealer position in the event that the other players at the table decline to do so. That said, every player in the cardroom variants of blackjack and baccarat has the opportunity to act as the player-dealer every two hands. Next time you’re at a cardroom, try it. It might seem counter-intuitive based on your experience at other casinos, but your bankroll will love you for it!

9Three Card Poker and Fortune Pai Gow are registered trademarks of Scientific Games Corporation. Spanish 21 is a registered trademark of Masque Publishing.
10Court rulings that upheld player-dealer games are:
• Sullivan v. Fox, 189 Cal.App.3d at 678
• Bell Gardens v. City of Los Angeles, (1991) 231 Cal.App.3d 1563, 1568
• Huntington Park v. County of Los Angeles, (1988) 206 Cal.App.3d 241, 250
• Walker v. Meehan, (1987) 194 Cal. App. 3d 1290

About the author

Kyle Kirkland is the current president of the California Gaming Association, the 501(c)(6) non-profit trade association that represents California cardrooms.  Mr. Kirkland is President and General Manager of Club One Casino, a 51-table cardroom in Fresno and holds the same positions for two smaller cardrooms.  Mr. Kirkland’s background includes work in the consulting, finance, music and gaming industries, and he has served on the boards of several public companies.  Mr. Kirkland holds an A.B. degree from Harvard College magna cum laude in Economics and an MBA degree from the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University.  He can be contacted at